With two weeks remaining in the regular season, high school basketball teams have an opportunity to make a late push and improve their seedings in upcoming sub-state tournaments.
For Salina South and Salina Central, it starts tonight with a matchup against their biggest rival.
The Mustangs and Cougars meet for the final time in the regular season, with tonight’s games at the South High gym starting with the girls varsity at 6 p.m. and the boys at approximately 7:30.
Central got the sweep at home in the December edition of the city rivalry. Tonight the Cougars try to even the score on their home floor.
The Mustang boys never trailed in their 60-45 victory over the Cougars in the first meeting. That game included a 12-0 start for Central, and the home team led 33-13 at halftime and a 47-21 advantage after three quarters.
Central enters tonight’s game 11-4 overall and 4-4 in the Ark Valley Chisholm Trail League.
“We’re in February and there’s not much time left in the season,” Central coach Doug Finch said. “After Friday we’re down to two weeks in the regular season and the 5A West is probably the toughest we’ve ever seen it.
“We are going to have to play at a very high level down the stretch and that starts (against South). I’m just thankful we’re playing in the high school gyms, because the atmosphere is a playoff like atmosphere and it’s going to be a fun night.”
After starting the season with one win in its first seven games, South has played better over the last month and has won five of its last eight games. Now 6-9 overall and 2-6 in league play, the Cougars are looking to end an eight-game losing streak against Central.
“We’re excited to have them in our gym and we know it will be a great environment,” South coach Jason Hooper said. “We know what they do well and they know what we do well.
“We’re looking to put a little better performance on the floor than we did last time and see what happens.”
The Central girls used a huge third quarter to break open a close game and pick up a 56-34 victory over South in their first meeting this season. That win gave the Mustangs an edge in the all-time series, 52-51.
Central is coming off back-to-back wins in the last week and is now 9-6 overall, 5-3 in the AVCTL.
South opened the season with six consecutive losses, but the Cougars are above .500 since the start of the new year and are now 5-9, 2-5. That includes a 36-21 victory over Campus on Tuesday.
The schools moved their regular season games from the Tony’s Pizza Events Center to the high school gyms a year ago. Last year, after Central won the first meeting at home, South got a 45-43 victory in the rematch at home.
“It’s going to be fun,” Central coach Chris Fear said. “They got us over there last year. It’s one the city of Salina looks forward to and I know we’ll be excited to get over there and play, and see how it goes.”
“Every time South and Central get together, it’s a big game,” South coach Ryan Stuart said. “We’re excited about getting to see them on our home court.
“Central has a really good offense and we’re going to have to have the same kind of defensive effort we had (against Campus). The last time we played them on our home floor, we have some pretty good memories, but it’s always a fun environment.”